So, I was wrong, it looks like I´ll have plenty of time to update my blog. I´m currently at the residencia for all the astronomers who are working at the summit here on La Palma in the Canaries. There are about 6 telescopes in use at any one time but it´s pretty quiet right now.
Revisiting Old Fiends
We stopped overnight in Madrid on our way here and it was very strange to be back in a place I had visited a couple of years ago. (There are a whole slew of photos here by the way). It was a very different right situation back then - firstly I was on holiday, secondly I knew nothing about the town, thirdly I was with my girlfriend and finally we´d already spent 2 weeks in some of the most amazing cities in Europe.
All of the above combined to mean that I found Madrid slightly dull - lacking in charm as it were. Mainly because I´d been spoilt for the previous fortnight and had seen some of the most breath-taking architecture (both ancient and modern) and been in amongst some of liveliest, friendliest people. Added to this we were quite fatigued with all the overnight travelling with heavy bags and staying in hostels so all-in-all, Madrid was a bit of a low point on our trip.
This time however, I arrived fresh off the plane, took a taxi to a hotel and was travelling with a colleague who had visited the city several times before. Whilst we didn´t have chance to do any exploring or sightseeing, I had plenty of time to gawp in awe at the centre of Madrid in all its floodlit glory. (Montreal may be an amazing city, but it really lacks in historical architecture). Then after dumping our bags we set out to a local tapas bar and munched on a range of traditional local delicacies: cured ham; raw, salted cod; some form of large pepper marinated in cumin; cheese; and of course the local beer - which is expressly poured with a 1 inch head on it! After that we shifted to another bar that served hot tapas and munched on some prawns that had been sauteed in olive oil, chilli pepper and garlic. Oh, so good!
It also meant that we were out amongst the locals, who have a very, very different mentality to the British and North Americans - they are so much more expressive and emotive. Oh and everyone smokes! Well, almost, in a bar I reckon 1 in 2 were probably smoking - not for Spain a ban on all smoking in public places! It was a really good evening, but we had to hit the sack early to get our plane the next day.
The mid-morning flight from Madrid to the Canary Islands took about 3 hours and we finally arrived at the summit at around 4pm and headed up to the telescope. I then finally managed to hand across the $45,000 camera I had been instructed to bring across. Every time I saw that case vanishing down the baggage conveyor belt I got uneasy. But, it made it safe and sound (I think, it´s not been switched on yet).
Anyhow, so got into the telescope, met up with the 3 other people who had come out the previous week and Tim gave us an update on what was going on. I probably understood about a tenth of what he was talking about - it was all optics stuff, and I don´t do optics. I tell you though, being in that massive dome with the huge telescope towering over you and being surrounded by computers and bits of mirrors and lasers (by the way, what we´re doing out here is we´re gonna fire a 4.5W laser into the sky, light up a layer of the atmosphere and then look at it through a telescope), I felt so out of my depth. It went away soon after I got stuck into what I was doing, it just looked like a mammoth task from the outside.
One thing I do have to mention is the doors we use to get in and out of the tiny rooms where we mount the instruments and put all the electronics. Basically, when the telescope is being used we can´t have any light in the interior of the dome (for obivous reasons). However, it is necessary to work near your instrument during these times, so they designed a door that is completely light-tight.
Basically it´s like a revolving door, but one that you propel yourself. Inbetween the ´doorways´ there is a cylinder of metal that can revolve. If the door is shut, you push round the cylinder until the opening appears. Then you step inside and continue to push the cylinder round until the entrance faces the room you want to go into. It´s very nifty, feels very futuristic. However, you do have to watch out if there´s someon behind you as I managed to get my arm caught in the door when someone else was trying to push it round!